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Stay-at-Home Parents and Divorce

parents and divorce

A lot of people think stay-at-home moms are a thing of the past.  There are certainly tons of people who have no idea that dads stay at home too.  The decision to stay at home can be based on a variety of reasons but the main one is financial between the parents and divorce. The costs of daycare have skyrocketed in the past decade, making it more logical for one parent to stay home than pay. There are a lot of things that should be taken into consideration when the family makes this decision.

 

The Impact of Divorce On Stay at Home Parents

There are several things that come up in divorces, but particularly in one where one party was the stay at home or homemaker. Finances is a major issue in households with one wage earner when it comes to divorce.   Alimony or spousal support, child support and property division are all common topics that require attention when a divorce action is started.  The stay-at-home party usually needs some financial support to continue while the wage earner usually disagrees.

  1. Alimony or Spousal Support

Most states have a law that allows litigants to sue the other for financial support.  Each state differs in what it considers but some factors are pretty much across state lines.  For example, the duration of the marriage, the employability or work history of the parties, the financial resources, just to name a few.  Most states limit alimony to a set number of years based on the duration of the marriage, the age & health of the parties and the number of years it would take for the non-wage earner to become gainfully employed.  Some states, particularly community property states, do not have any laws for alimony.  Community property states that ALL property acquired during the marriage is subject to equal distribution.


Property Division in Divorce


The stay-at-home parent who was never employed or has no employable skills, due to being out of the workforce, has an advantage. The “employability” of that party is a major factor to consider in how long alimony should go on for.  As does their financial resources, the time it takes for them to find a job and the standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage.  These are all the factors specifically relevant to stay at home partners or homemakers.

  1. Property Distribution or Division

Property is subject to be divided in the divorce when it was acquired during the marriage. Property division laws follow one of two principles.  Some states have “equitable distribution”, while others are “community property” states.    Equitable distribution laws look at what is “fair” to the parties based on a few factors.   Those factors can include the contribution each party made to the acquisition of the property, the length of the marriage, an award of alimony (it is amount and duration) and the loss of health insurance benefits because of the divorce.  In community property states, however, the marital property is divided equally no matter what if it is considered marital (as opposed to being classified as separate property.)

  1. Child Support

Child Support is determined by the state’s guidelines (statute) and is therefore usually straightforward with respect to calculations.  The problems come up when the wage earner is self-employed, works “off the books”, gets high commissions and bonuses or something similar where income is difficult to determine.  So, with respect to stay at home party in the divorce, the only issue that is highly relevant is if the guidelines allow for deviation from the calculations.   Deviating from the state’s guidelines usually requires that certain elements be present in your case.  For example, in New York the courts are allowed to deviate from the Child Support Standards Act (“CSSA”) if the combined income of the parties is $154,000 or more.

So, if the wage earner in your case makes a reported income of at least $154,000, the court can look at each parent’s finances; educational needs of the parents; the income differences between the parents; the lifestyle if the family had remained intact-these factors are relevant in stay-at-home situations.   Although each state has their own guidelines, they may have similar provisions for considering the stay-at-home parent’s circumstances.

  1. Child Custody

When it comes to child custody, it is conceivable that the stay-at-home parent would be in the better position to gain custody of the children.   However, the best interests’ factors help the court determine who should have custody, physical and legal.  (Read here for the best interests’ standards.) The parent that stayed at home with the children is not automatically the more “fit” parent or the one that will be more likely to fulfill the children’s mental, emotional, physical, and intellectual needs. Parents who work outside of the home can be considered as “fit” or as suitable to provide a safe, loving, and nurturing environment as the homemaker parent.


Best Interests of the Child Custody Each State 


Only some states have specific best interests’ factors, while others have more like guiding principles. The states that have set out factors have implicitly left out the financial resources of each parent as a top of the list consideration.  However, some states have factors that have a more direct impact on the circumstances of stay-at-home parents.  Factors like, the need for continuation of a stable home, adjustments to school and community and parenting ability to provide a safe, nurturing environment.  These factors can have a negative or positive influence on custody since the financial means of the stay-at-home parent will be disrupted.   Maintaining a connection within the community the children are most familiar, staying in the home they are most familiar with, and parenting ability are all indirectly (or directly).  Stay at home parents must make huge adjustments, mainly because of finances, that will cause some inevitable disruptions for them and their children.

 

In conclusion

Deciding if either parent should stay home to raise the children and be a homemaker is a decision that requires the undesirable thought of its implication on divorce.  Although it might suit the family’s circumstances at the time, it can definitely create issues later on.

 

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